Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Wrecker Retrospective: 2008, ’09, ’10 FCIAC Championships
Staples’ 2015 FCIAC championship quest has ended. But a look back — in Part 5 of Fred Cantor ’71’s series on memorable league title games — captures the excitement and joy of the Wreckers’ 3 most recent crowns.
“3-peat” is a celebrated term in the sports world. It recognizes a rare accomplishment, one far more difficult to achieve than back-to-back titles.
In 2008, ’09 and ’10 Staples became the 1st FCIAC team to win 3 straight league crowns outright in almost 30 years — since, in fact, the 1979-81 Wreckers. Dan Donovan, Chris Kranick and Rob Hagebak contributed to all 3 wins.
This time around an even larger group of players — Brendan Lesch, Greg Gudis, Frankie Bergonzi and Sean Gallagher — were instrumental in the entire run.
That run included more tournament matches. With 19 teams now in the FCIAC, the format included 8 teams, and 3 rounds.
After disposing of Darien and Norwalk in the quarterfinals and semis in 2008, Staples advanced to the lights at Norwalk’s Testa Field. The opponent was Greenwich, a team Staples had defeated 2-0 at Loeffler Field earlier in the year. But this time the match was completely different. Greenwich held a 1-0 halftime lead.
Defender Sean Gallagher recalls: “For one of the first times that season we found ourselves fighting an uphill battle during the 2nd half. However, we were not worried. The energy from the crowd further fueled our desire to win. Early in the second half we took control of possession, passing lanes and tempo.”
The equalizer, 13 minutes into the 2nd half, was an all-sophomore affair: a corner kick from Gudis was flicked on by Bergonzi into the path of Lesch, who headed into the net. Gudis and Matteo Marzoli scored Staples’ next 2 goals, on set-ups from Alex Hoberman and Alan Reiter, to secure a 3-1 victory.
At game’s end hundreds of Staples’ “Superfans” — the vast majority dressed in white — ran onto the field to mob the team.
Gallagher states: “This win was special for a lot of reasons, but I think for the first time in my years at Staples, the victories on the soccer field truly extended far beyond just the players and coaches. This was a victory that included the full student body. This is the essence of Staples soccer, and it’s what makes it so special. Staples soccer is a team the town can rally behind.”
Gallagher also recalls the post-game high of later that evening. The team walked into the Sherwood Diner with their FCIAC championship medals proudly displayed around their neck — and received a standing ovation first from fans at the game, then everyone else in the restaurant.
The 2008 Staples squad continued its winning ways through the semifinals of the state tournament — a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Glastonbury, after surrendering 2 goals in the final 10 minutes. Yet with 8 starters returning from a 21-2 campaign, expectations were sky-high for 2009.
Led by quad-captains Jack Hennessy, Andrew McNair, Alan Reiter and Mike White, the Wreckers lived up to those expectations. Staples lost only 1 game in FCIAC regular season play. Victories over Westhill and Greenwich in the first rounds of the FCIAC tourney earned a return to the championship match, this time against #2 seed Ridgefield.
Staples’ Gudis and Scott scored in the first 15 minutes, assisted by White and Bergonzi. But despite controlling the play for most of the first half, the Wreckers let Ridgefield back in the game with a goal a minute before halftime. Keeper Michael McCarthy — son of Stuart McCarthy, a member of the Staples’ 1978 Staples state title squad — made a tough initial save, but the Tigers converted the rebound.
A more even game followed intermission. But Staples opened up a 2-goal lead again with 22 minutes remaining, when Lesch knocked in Gudis’ corner kick. Ten minutes later the Westporters put the game out of reach. A Marzoli-White combination led to a world-class diving header from Lesch.
A defensive scheme well-executed by the back four of Hennessy, Gallagher, Bergonzi and Mikey Fitzgerald negated the impact of Ridgefield’s outstanding Harvard-bound striker (who had 54 career goals prior to the finals) for most of the game.
At the final horn (due to new security) Staples’ Superfans did not race onto the field. So the Wreckers ran over and jumped into the stands to share the victory celebration with their huge group of supporters (attendance was near 2,000). It was a truly memorable sight.
But it was not the final celebration of the season. Staples continued its scoring onslaught throughout the state tournament, capping it off with a 4-0 thrashing of New Milford in the class LL state championship match at Ridgefield.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of how explosive and dominant the 22-2 squad was: from 1961 through 2014, Staples has played in over 50 championship matches (FCIAC and state tournament). They’ve scored 4 or more goals in only 4 of those matches. The 2009 Wreckers did it twice in 3 weeks.
Despite the loss of several key players, Staples had major championship aspirations again in 2010. They wound up in the FCIAC title match for the 3rd straight year — this time against Fairfield Warde.
This was a much closer contest. A scoreless tie at halftime was broken just a minute after halftime, on a Gudis goal off a Lesch pass. But Warde equalized less than 2 minutes later. Back and forth it went, until Lesch netted the go-ahead goal in a melee in the box 10 minutes later.
The Mustangs refused to fold. A superb diving tip save by Staples keeper James Hickok with minutes remaining preserved the 1-goal margin.
At the final horn, the Wreckers raced to the stands to celebrate with their Superfans.
The success carried over to the state tourney. Staples advanced all the way to the finals, despite a season-ending injury suffered by Gudis and a severe ankle injury incurred by Lesch. In the title game they still managed to outplay perennial upstate powerhouse Farmington, but lost on a spectacular free kick with 15 minutes to play. It was a difficult way to end a special season — and an even more special 3-year run.
But that ending in no way diminishes Gallagher’s feelings about his Staples soccer experience. He was selected by the U.S. Naval Academy, another experience that’s helped shape his perspective:
“To me soccer was never the end-state, but rather a vehicle for life. Playing sweeper on those successful teams taught me how to communicate, decide, and act in a dynamic environment. I learned what hard work truly is, and how powerful passion and dedication can be.
“Some of my best friends today are my Staples soccer teammates. That’s the result of a program that builds camaraderie and a love for the game. I owe much of my future to my Staples soccer past.”